Edible Wild Plants

March 10, 2009

Anyone here an edible wildscape hobbiest and/or familiar with home recipes and remedies?

I've got some wild garlic that I planted for their pretty, albeit brief, flowers. But I haven't yet eaten them.

Also have lots of mesquite beans which I read can be ground into flour (sharp in flavor). I haven't ground my own yet, but did purchase mesquite flour that someone else produced.

I also have a lot of horehound that I'm told the German settlers brought with them to use medicinally with honey, candy and for tea.

I've eaten cactus fruits but haven't yet made the jelly.

And this one really surprised me. Did you know you can eat milkweed pods?

Here is a link that might be useful: How to collect/cook milkweed pods

Comments (25)

  • ambersas

    Try 'googling' Euell Gibbons. Back in the '60s he wrote 3 books on things like "stalking the wild asparagus" He also wrote for various magazines on just that topic - how to find, prepare and eat wild foods. And, yes, I'm old enough to remember!! LOL


  • texasflip

    I've heard about the milkweed thing...I think I would be too scared to try it, lol.

    About eating mesquite...if you go around to different trees and taste the pulp of the young pods, you'll find some trees have sweeter pods than others. Use the pods from those trees.

    There are a lot of resources out there that go unused...wild plums, elderberries, hickory nuts, acorns, cattails, sunflowers...

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  • uhohgardner

    The only things I can grow are dandelions and that little green weedy thing with the purple flowers on it. If you find a good recipe, I can get you all you can handle of either.

    Mesquite bean jelly - hard to find, unless you make your own - but really is good on a slab of ham on the grill!

  • uhohgardner

    might be something on this site


    if not, try some of the recipes. they're great

  • dragonfly_wings

    ambersas: I forgot about ol' Euell! He was waaay ahead of his time...or maybe history has caught up with us as we go 'native' and reaquaint ourselves with nature.

    texasflip - tasting the pods sounds like good advice. I haven't ground my own yet because it takes a pretty powerful grinder (no hand grinders for me!) to get those super hard beans into powder form. Those native American Indians must have had some amazing biseps! I forgot to mention I also have native plums! What can I make with them? I've never tasted them but I'm sure they aren't as sweet as my non-native plums. Though I'll bet they ARE doing better in this drought.

    I'll have to do a search to find out if there is a handbook or cookbook on native Texas or Southwest cooking using edible plants.

    uhohgardner - well it sounds like you have a bumper crop of salad fixin's. The first 'native edible plant' experience I had was in girl scouts. We made a wild dandelion salad and it was VERY good! And now they sell it in fancy bulk salad mixes at the grocery stores! I've never heard of mesquite bean jelly, but I've used the mesquite bean flour to bread various meats and it made for a wonderful flavor.
    I checked out that website, but didn't seen any native recipes. More of a good ol' gal blog and a fondness for all things western.

  • wally_1936

    If you live in West Texas you may be able to get a lot of "Pear Apples" off Cactus when they put them on after they bloom. Using good gloves and a towel to throw away after. Remove the little thorns. Cut them in two and cook and strain through cheese cloth. I squeeze out a litle more juice then add lemon juice. Check your pectin box for amounts, makes a very nice jelly, just ask my wife, I am the cook.

    You can "pick" cactus pads early when they are soft, before the thorns harden, but even then there are those very thin wires sticking out just below those soft thorns. Use gloves and scrape with a knife to remove the thorns. Wipe with paper towels to make sure they are all off. If you don't like the "slime" cook slowly until they stop ooging out. We like to fry some onions and garlic and and canned tomatoes and some mexican seasonings. Makes a fine stew. Some like them with eggs and cheese for breakfast

  • dragonfly_wings

    Wally, when you say 'cook' do you mean boil?
    Is that all there is to the jam...just the cooked 'pears' and lemon? No sugar? I think I might want to sweeten it with Agave nectar. Seems like the natural choice.

    The one time I've eaten the catus pears I used tongs and a knife to gather them. Probably less problematic than a towel. And then I cut just the thin skin off of them and picked out the seeds and ate them! They were milder and blander in taste than I expected. But good and refreshing.
    I may try some in a fruit smoothis this summer.

    I have bought the cactus pads (chopped up) in the store and used them my migas or scrambled eggs. Yum!

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  • knittlin

    I didn't know about the milkweed pods, Dragonfly! Cool! I've made jelly from those hog plums, as well as the wild grapes, prickly pear cactuses, dewberries and agarita bushes (a good trick to harvest those is spread a sheet out below the bush and use two sticks to harvest ~ pull one branch out with one stick and tap that one firmly with the other stick ~ all the ripe berries will drop onto the sheet). There are also wild persimmons ~ not the little black things, but real persimmons, yellowey-orange and everything. They don't taste very good if we don't get much rain, and still don't taste nice until after a frost. Well, they still don't taste really good unless you add a lot of sugar. LOL! And of course who could forget pecans. I make pies and pies and more pies every year from those, as well as add them to soups, salads and stir-fries.

    Speaking of salads, there are wild onions, pickle plants (those light green "shamrock" sort of weeds ~ you eat the seed pods), purslane, watercress and sorrel to flesh out that salad of dandelions. And wild mint to go in your tea or mint juleps. And chicory for use as a coffee substitute. If you want a cooked dish, use those sorrel leaves with some lambs' quarters and spiderwort to add to soups and such like spinach. And you can cook young prickly pear pads after burning off all the spines. They're good in scrambled eggs and are called napolitos in Mexico. They're even sold in cans in HEB.

    As for medicinals, there is mullein for chest congestion, senna for constipation, the aforementioned horehound for colds (IF you can get past the naaaasty bitterness), and tickle tongue tree (aka toothache tree) to stand in for Oragel (it really does make your mouth numb).

    Euell Gibbons is a great resource! He wrote two or three books, but the most popular was the first one Dorothy mentioned. Another good book for our area is Edible and Useful Wild Plants of Texas and the Southwest by Delena Tull. I can't personally attest to it's usefulness yet since I just bought it (just a minute ago took the plastic off as a matter of fact), but three people have told me that it's a really good one. This thread's got me motivated to read through it this morning to see what it says about the things I've already been using (the things listed above). The cover says it contains recipes as well as information on natural dyes, harmful plants and textile fibers.

  • the_gurgler

    Lightly toasted Yaupon Holly leaves and stems make a nice tea (1 tbsp + 2 cups boiling water). Plenty of caffeine as well.

    Blackberries are also quite yummy and native. The leaves can also make a nice tea. Wild varieties won't be as good a fruit as cultivated of course.

  • linda_tx8

    I'll second knittlin's recommendation of Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest by Delina Tull. I keep it near my computer and "useful" is also a word I'd use for it! I use it quite a bit.

  • dragonfly_wings

    Holy cow Knittlin.

    YOU need to write a book. You seem to have accumulated so much invaluable hands-on experience in so many things. I'm just in awe. And your passion is contageous. A modern pioneer spirit.

    "Hog plums"...lol. What do they taste like by themselves?
    Are they really sour? And agarita....I had no idea.

    Actually I wish someone like you would open a restaurant that served mainly historic native dishes with locally gathered plants. And it would give local farmers/gardners another outlet for their homemade goods. Wouldn't that be something! I have seen workshops offered on identifying native plants and making native dishes or remedies before...but that was some time ago and I wasn't able to attend.

    I'll check out that book you, Dorothy and Linda recommended.

    I just remembered another book source.
    Scooter Cheatham's Texas Legacy Project is probably the quintessential collection of information on native plants (edible, medicinal and other uses) which is still in progress. A true labor of love.
    It's in encyclopedia form from A to Z. Not sure how far he's gotten but he's been working on it for a loooooog time.
    He used to offer classes and workshops too. Don't know if he still does. Here are some related sites that might interest you.




    the_gurgler -
    Yaupon is another one I hadn't heard of using in that way.
    I've got Possumhaw but not Yaupon. Any use for those orange berries?

  • dragonfly_wings

    Oopsie...meant to include this link to Cheatham's website:


    The Useful Wild Plants (UWP) Project sets a standard for studying plant uses throughout the world. The multi-volume work titled The Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico
    is the definitive economic botany study for the southern half of the United States and northern Mexico. More
    than two decades of intensive interdisciplinary research have gone into the project. Nothing comparable has
    been done elsewhere. Researchers say similar work should be done in other regions throughout the world.

    Our first goal is to complete and publish a comprehensive 12-volume encyclopedia that describes over 4,000 Texas plants, discusses in detail their past, present, and future value, and provides color photographs and distribution maps for each species. Due the the tireless efforts of many professionals and lay volunteers Volume 1 and 2 are available now and Volumes 3 through 6 are ready to be printed as soon as funding is obtained. Volumes 7 through 12 are partially finished. Plans for future information output call for an interactive database available by subscription, a CD-ROM version of the multi-volume work, and on-site land use consultation. The project is being done under the auspices of The Useful Wild Plants, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.


    Here is a link that might be useful: The Useful Wild Plants Project

  • knittlin

    *Blush* Thanks for the kind words, Dragonfly. :) It's just forty years of living out here and listening to the old timers.

    About the plums ~ if you catch them right at the height of ripeness, before the birds get to them, they're actually rather sweet. There is a tartness to them, some years more than others. It's been years since I've eaten one by itself, but best I remember it's just like regular plums, but more intense.

    Do be careful with those yaupons. I've heard all my life that the berries are toxic. That book I talked about agrees ~ they say the leaves are fine as a tea, but they cite half a dozen experts (including good ol' Euell) saying that as few as twenty or thirty berries have caused death in children.

    "Actually I wish someone like you would open a restaurant that served mainly historic native dishes with locally gathered plants. And it would give local farmers/gardners another outlet for their homemade goods. Wouldn't that be something! I have seen workshops offered on identifying native plants and making native dishes or remedies before...but that was some time ago and I wasn't able to attend."
    Hey! You've given me an idea! No, no restaurant in my future ~ been there, done that by working in a few and that was enough foodservice experience for me! Though your idea does sound intriguing. I'd patronize a restaurant like that for sure.

    I'm working with a couple other people to build a teaching garden on the local library grounds just across the fence from my pasture. We plan to offer classes on all apsects of growing your own (soil building, organic growing, seed saving, herb propagation, fruit tree care, etc.). Now I think I'll also have a patch of useful native plants in a corner where I'll teach how to recognize them and use them. Thanks for that idea, DFW. :)

    The library veggie garden will help us gauge interest (and grow interest) for locally grown food, and hopefully will lead to a full-blown community garden and farmers' market in the years to come. Yep, that'll be a nice outlet for some of the local farmers.

  • knittlin

    Forgot to mention that the Useful Wild Plants Project is a great one! I saw a tv spot about them once, I think it was on a biography type show on Euell Gibbons. They're based in Austin, right?

  • trsinc

    That is a great project. Thank you for posting the link, dragonfly. I'd never heard of it before. Sure wish it wasn't so expensive. Maybe I'll ask Santa for Vol. 1, lol.

  • dragonfly_wings


    I'll stay away from the pretty orange/red Yaupon berries.
    When I was a kid we had a similar kind of tree near our house and I stood there and ate several berries. After proudly reporting my delicious discovery to my mother, her eyes got very big and panic set in. Long story short, I ended up getting my stomach pumped. So since then my appetite for pretty wild berries has diminished somewhat.

    Your Library project sounds brilliant! And I would imagine that learning about what's under foot, so to speak, and in one's own yard (native edibles/medicinals) would be something that would peak people's curiosity and perhaps even entice some old timers to share their remedies and recipes with the younger generation!

    I was thinking about a 'native plants' garden myself with things like Purslane, Lambsquarters, etc. But I'll have to learn more about growing, harvesting and cooking them first. This website discusses the benefits of eating Lambsquarters:

    I believe Scooter Cheatham IS based in Austin. And there used to be a "library/store/learning center" sort of place for herbs and edible native plants out east of Austin just off the OLD airport road (Manor) about a mile past the airport entrance (on the left), but not quite as far as 183. Can't recall its name and don't know if it's still there. It could be connected to Cheatham's project.

    Also was exploring Cheatham's Usefull Wild Plants site that I linked to above and discovered that they apparently do still teach annual classes AND then have a banquet using the plants they've discovered. I'll bet they have some amazing recipes!

    Some of their archived newsletters look intriguing such as the first one that discusses what kind of meals were eaten by the natives and pioneers.

    I did a google on Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest, By Delena Tull and discovered it's available to read online! Or at least a lengthy preview:


    Can You Answer These Questions?

    1) What do lipstick, World War I campaign tents, and shoe polish have in common?

    2) The wood of this tree is one of the finest anywhere in the world for making bows and was prized by Native Americans for this. It is amazingly durable and decay-resistant. Paving blocks (as paved the downtown streets of old Fort Worth) made of it can last 50 years or more. One name refers to its use for bows, another to the color of the wood and the Indians who used it for bows. What are they?

    3) This juicy plant thrives in the heat of summer and grows out of the cracks in city sidewalks. It is sold in Mexican and Asian markets as a vegetable. What is it?

    4) You just noticed that the mustang grapes you've been picking are entwined with poison ivy. You've never broken out before so you keep picking. But should you be concerned this time?

    5) Even though this plant has delicious leaves with more Vitamin A than spinach or broccoli, to most people it's a no-good weed to be mercilessly hoed out of the garden. The seeds of one of its relatives were a staple food of the Aztecs. What is it?

    6) The Texas shrub called agarita (Berberis trifoliolata) produces delicious red fruits in late spring. Its yellow roots helped equip World War II paratroopers. How?

    7) One U.S. president was also a great plantsman. Who said "The greatest service which can be given any country is to add a useful plant to its culture?"

    8) You are curious about the plants in your own backyard and want to know more about them. What can you do?

    Here is a link that might be useful: ANSWERS

  • the_gurgler

    No eating the Yaupon berries, just the leaves for tea. Watch out how concentrated you make the tea. It can get quite a bit of caffeine in it. The way I make it the tea is something like green tea or Yerba Mate I let it steep for about 1-2 minutes.

  • knittlin

    OMG, DFW! And you lived to tell about it! LOL! Ugh. What kind of tree was it? Do you remember?

    Oooh! I want to go to one of the WildFeeds! That sounds like fun. Maybe one of these days I can take the class so I can.

    Can You Answer These Questions? Dunno, but we'll see! B*Spoiler alert* ~ if you want to take the quiz above, don't read this post 'til after you do as I give away some answers.

    1) All used turpentine from pine trees?
    2) No idea
    3) Purslane?
    4) Yep. You may develop an allergy when they weren't before.
    5) Sorrel or Lamb's Quarters ~ not sure which
    6) Used to dye the 'chutes maybe? I know agarita roots can be used for dye, just not sure if it was used on them.
    7) Thomas Jefferson, definitely (I'm a big Jefferson fan)
    8) Buy Useful Wild Plant.com's books. LOL!

    Let's see how many I got right...

    Didn't do too bad, but wouldn't have passed if it were a school test. ;) I got #1 and #2 wrong, and I'm not claiming #5 as right since I wasn't sure. I like the info about the Bodark tree a lot ~ makes me want to plant one.

    That was fun! Thanks for posting that, Dragonfly!

  • dragonfly_wings


    Can't recall what kind of poisonous berry I ate. We were living in the Northeast at the time, but it was a larger berry than Yaupons, and bright red. Very seductive for youngsters. I was like a little crow who collected shiny things, only my eye was drawn to bright colors. I remember just having to have a bright red bulb off my neighbor's strand of outdoor Christmas lights and was caught 'red handed' unscrewing it! Hence my attraction to the colorful Brugmansias and other plants I suppose.

    Are there any plant doctors in the house? I need therapy!

    You did much better on that quiz than me. Strangely the one plant question I got right was about the Bodark. And of course I got the last two.

    Was looking up information on some native trees and found this interesting online book which apparently has info on other things beside historic native people:

    Historic Native Peoples of Texas
    By William C. Foster, Alston V. Thoms

    Here is a link that might be useful: Historic Native Peoples of Texas

  • knittlin

    Ha! You sound like me ~ I like pretty, shiny things. ;)

    Yet another great link. Thanks for that DFW. It'll come in handy when I do the talks at the library about useful native plants.

  • jblaschke

    Passiflora incarnata--otherwise known as Maypops--are native east of I-35. Gorgeous flowers, yummy fruit. I know the dried leaves are used as a sedative (tea?) but I've never tried that. Too scared off by the cyanide in the leaves. But if you know how to prepare then, it'd be safe I suppose.

    Telling if the fruit is ripe is absurdly easy, though: Wait for it to drop off the vine. Once it does, it's good to eat!

  • carrie751

    I had no idea one could eat the fruit. Mine produces quite a few each season.

  • texasflip

    Something I've always wanted to try is maximillian sunflower. They're that perennial sunflower related to Jeruselum artichoke and their tubers are edible. The thing is, they store their energy in a form humans can't use so I've always wondered why anyone would bother.

    I've dug up roots from the native lotus before and fried them up. They were pretty fibrous. Not sure it was worth losing a shoe for.

    I also found a hug patch of elderberries along Clear Creek this past winter. Does anyone know about when they might be ripe?

  • hunnybuddy

    We LOVE the wild onions that grow in our yard! Just make sure if you try them that they smell like onions. There is a copycat plant that grows in the same areas as wild onions, but it doesn't smell the same. They do become a bit of a nuisance because they are so prolific, but their season is relatively short so it's not too bad. The best part is that when we mow, our house smells like a culinary goldmine. YUM! :)

  • tejas55

    You don't have to live in west Texas to have prickly pear cactus around. I live in central Texas and we have entire pastures full of it and it has tons of ripe fruits. The new pads that come out in the spring are very tender and edible with no peeling necessary and there are not yet any spines or tiny hair-like spines. You can cook them like green beans. Stir fry or boil or whatever. They are a little slimy but very healthy. You would never starve in Texas because prickly pear are always available in all 254 counties.

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